Skip to main content

It seems there's nothing deadlier than the mail.

The Avengers
6.10: You’ll Catch Your Death

Jeremy Burnham’s first teleplay, originally titled Atishoo, Atishoo, All Fall Down, which might have given the impression that it’s zanier than it is (equally, it might have been used to more sinister effect, as nursery rhymes often are). There’s plenty of eccentricity in the supporting cast, though, which lifts this one considerably above the past couple of episodes.


Not least of the eccentrics is found in the arrival proper of Patrick Newell’s Mother, having previously been seen in the cobbled-together The Forget-Me-Knot. His location is suitably offbeat, filmed in one of Elstree’s concrete-lined water tanks, with ladders about the place as if to evoke some sort of art installation. He variously drinks (“Scotch?”), looks at Rhonda (Parker) through a telescope and answers telephones, warning Steed “Not that one unless you happen to speak fluent Swahili”. It does seem a bit of a stretch that they’re discussing a worldwide epidemic when only three ear, nose and throat specialists have died (there’d be patient victims too, surely), so it’s quite correct that he considers it “A disease that chooses its victims too carefully for my likening” and his wager that it’s not in any medical dictionary because “My nose is twitching” is accordingly quite reasonable.


Steed: Is this, by any chance, one of yours?
Maidwell: I’m afraid to say it is, sir. It is our Cream Wove brand.
Steed: Well, Cream Wove or not, a firm of your reputation... Tut-tut.
Maidwell: I am well aware of that, sir. I was saying to Mr Pew only the other day that we ought to discontinue it.
Steed: And Mr Pew disapproved?
Maidwell: It’s our big money maker, you see sir. Low cost so makes bulk-buying an attractive proposition.
Steed: Oh, it’s fairly common?
Maidwell: In every sense of the word, sir.

Indeed, Burnham seems to known, either intuitively or through studying the previous couple of seasons – probably the latter, since he'd already acted in three episodes, the first time in Season Four) that a progression of eccentric scenes (with Steed) is the ideal means to structure an episode, regardless of the actual plot. So our gentleman protagonist visits stationer Maidwell (Henry McGee), leading to a typically Avengers conversation pertaining to class, or the lack thereof, which leads him To the Anastasia Nursing Academy…


Steed: If one’s born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth, one must see that it feeds as many people as possible.

Less eccentric conversation-wise is the Academy’s Matron (Sylvia Kay, of Aussie alchy drama Wake in Fright and… Just Good Friends). Well aside from Steed’s first sight of her, apparently half x-rayed (“Oh, Matron, good of you to see… Good to see you”). He introduces himself as forming a foundation “dedicated to the service of the sick”. Kay makes a formidable villain, if not the chief one, although one wonders why she and actual ringleader Glover (Fulton Mackay, 5.18: Return of the Cybernauts) should entrust their poisoning campaign to a couple of de rigueur tactless brutes (Dudley Lovejoy Sutton’s Dexter and Bette Bourne’s Preece, also of 4.25: A Sense of History, recalling, to a lesser degree, the psychotic thuggery in 5.3: The Bird Who Knew Too Much).


Steed: Comfortable?
Fawcett: No. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Steed: I frequently am.
Fawcett: Using curtains like those.
Steed: Oh, I rather like them.
Fawcett: Highly dangerous. 22.3% of all hay fever sufferers are allergic to velvet.
Steed is then visited by Dr Fawcett (Charles Lloyd Pack, 4.13: Silent Dust) of the Institute of Allergic Disease, who admonishes him for the state of his curtains. Steed comes across as pretty slack here, not even aware of Seaton’s death, and one can’t help thinking that if he hadn’t palmed the bodyguard bit off on Tara, taking the cushy interviewing of eccentrics himself, there’d have been less corpses. 


Colonel Timothy: Ever thought of going to Malaya?
Steed: Well, I…
Colonel Timothy: Don’t, dreadful place.

Contender for the acting chemistry award is Steed arriving to see Colonel Timothy (Ronald Culver), based on a clue found at the Academy. Culver’s superb as an – yes! – eccentric type who has been “infection prone since his return from Malaya” and has dedicated himself to finding a cure for the common cold (“The biggest mistake they made was to invade me”). Mother’s right to suggest Timothy isn’t the villain, but the source of the virus is nevertheless his research facility (an entrance to which is hidden behind a wall in his house). When he and Steed go to find Tara (“And what are we looking for?”: “A tall, attractive brunette”: “Who isn’t?”) they form an effective double act in overcoming the enemy, hitting them with their hats (“El Alamein all over again”) and proving adept at diversionary tactics. Nevertheless, it’s Valentine Dyall (the Black Guardian, City at the Edge of the World) whom Macnee bounces off most brightly.


Butler: Curiosity, sir, was responsible for the demise of the cat.
Steed: Heh. Not to worry. I have eight lives left.
Butler: My advice, sir, would be not to throw them away too easily.

Going by the previous episode, this unnamed butler ought to be the mastermind, particularly with “The Man in Black” playing him, but no. He’s just the butler. Asked to roll up his sleeve, Steed responds “What, fisticuffs?” and receives the response “No, antibiotic injection. Colonel’s orders. No visits permitted without one”. It is perhaps a little surprising, given the institute behind the wall, that there isn’t a complementary white coat or mask, though.


Steed: You know, that could be the nucleus for a nice nasty organisation.

The deadly letters in the post contain anthraxhighly concentrated cold virus (“Common cold virus powder manufactured to a fantastic enough strength to kill an elephant”), Glover’s rather attention-drawing plan being to “kill those in anti-allergy research who might present a threat” (who could produce an antidote). His reasoning? Rather prosaically, he just wants to be a very rich man. The Academy meanwhile, is revealed as an anti-nursing body (their induction strategy being to reject all honest candidates and take all dishonest ones), something of a throwaway element, as beyond the Matron nothing is really made of it.


Preece: We call it Oblivion – I think you’ll fall for it.

As mentioned, Tara singularly fails to protect surviving ear, nose and throat specialists on the list, although Seaton (Geoffrey Chater, 5.21: You have Just Been Murdered) proceeds to open a newly arrived letter immediately after she’s inspected his mail. She also succumbs to the aggressive attentions of Dexter and Preece, but puts up a good effort resisting them. Taken for questioning, and deep freezing, and testing, we learn she’s allergic to ragweed (“A rather plebeian allergy, Miss King”), but not caviar, oysters, champagne or quail, which is fortunate, hanging out with Steed. If her fighting skills earlier are formidable, it’s disappointing that Thorson overacts abominably when she receives a slapped face for biting Matron.


The climax is most notable for centring on the research facility’s prodigious nose-on-the-wall prop, down a nostril of which Steed rather ruthlessly empties one of the deadly envelopes on the fleeing Glover, before emerging, upside down, with a gleeful “Gesundheit”.


Tara: You’ll just have to face it, Steed. You’re completely compromised.

The coda is a disappointing return to the territory of innuendo-laden sugar daddy, as Steed succumbs to Tara’s cold while attempting to administer her Auntie Ermintrude’s patent cold remedy (“People might talk. And draw conclusions”). Which is a shame, as You’ll Catch Your Death is one of the few episodes in the season to this point that captures something of the Rigg era’s flair.









Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his …

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.